drawing hands

Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad. ~ Dalí

I haven’t drawn anything in decades. The prospect of drawing frightens me. I know I have no talent and no hope of growing one. Anything I might put on paper will be utterly ridiculous and humiliating. When a friend suggested to take me and my creativity seminar to the local art museum for a 50-minute crash course in drawing, I agreed—for the sake of the students. My friend did not let me off the hook. He insisted that I too get a sketchbook and a number two pencil. I got to work drawing the bust of a Roman senator from the Republican era. His nose had broken off, so starting there, where something was missing, seemed like a good idea. Feeling miles away from perfection, I started with imperfection. The result was atrocious. I rendered the poor senator with a phenomenal bump on his head, which gave him a Neanderthal appearance. The drawing had no depth and all the parts were out of proportion. I contemplated a deft lie. I meant to represent the senator non-representationally, abstract, post-modern, surreal. Such a lie would be transparently daft rather than deft. If I drew a circle, three dots, and an oblique line, I could claim intent. Not so with the grotesque visage of Tullius Maximus. There’s no deniability.

My friend, the éminent artiste, then taught me a simple but profound lesson. He showed me how to draw with a sense of flow, circling the entire scene with a very light touch. This technique helps with getting the proportions right. More importantly, I think, it breaks the psychological set that demands a detail-by-detail progression. With that set, you expect to finish the nose (even if broken off) with sufficient verisimilitude before attacking the ear. The flow approach is holistic and it takes the pressure off to be accurate in the first attempt. It allows the picture to emerge gradually. It holds on to tentativeness. Drawing becomes more playful, more organic, and less deliberative. In this brief exercise, I learned that there is a new mindset. Instead of wanting to draw what I saw, I could begin to draw in order to see. It’s a complete reversal, which requires a certain trust in the wisdom of the hand to do its thing. I tried this approach on a torso, the wrecked remains of a once complete Roman sculpture. Beyond Sleepy Hollow, no limbs even. Beginning with something that looked like an egg standing on its small end, I began to fill in. The hardest part was to give the drawing a sense of depth. How could I bring the muscles and their definition into view? Working with gentle curves and bits of shades, I was astounded that the result was much nicer than I would have expected a mere half hour earlier.

The lesson for creativity is simple: Half the battle is to let go of inhibition; the other half is a find a benevolent teacher willing to show simple but effective tricks. The final 10 halves are to do it again and again and again. I will take my sketchbook with me on my next trip. 

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